I guess I’m atypical.
I grew up in a predominantly Filipino neighborhood. Whenever I go back, I’m amazed at just how “Filipino” the area is. My neighborhood has no less than three Filipino bakeries, four or five mom and pop Filipino restaurants, Filipino markets, a high school that offered Tagalog as a foreign language, and a Jollibee.
I never came to hate being Filipino. I accepted it. It’s a part of me. I didn’t think it was particularly special or unique. Just different. What I grew to hate was the rampant self-destruction that I started witnessing when I became more self-aware. I noticed things.
When I was in grade school, I was watched by a series of babysitters in my neighborhood. These families had kids my age, but while I went to a private school, they went to public school.
One of the first babysitters I had was a young woman named Nancy. She basically took care of each and every child in the household while the mother was at work. Nancy was calm, self assure–until her mother came home. Whenever Nancy did anything wrong, no matter how miniscule, her mother would browbeat her. Nothing was good enough for her mother. One day, I remember her younger brother locked himself in a bathroom. He couldn’t figure out how to unlock the door so he started crying. Nancy didn’t have an emergency key, so she kept trying to unlock the door with a coat hanger. When her mother came home, she unlocked the bathroom door and then beat Nancy with her fists. Nancy was screaming and curled into a fetal position, trying to keep the blows from hitting her face.
The next babysitter I had was an older grandmother that would later save my brother’s life. This family had a teenager named Michael. I remember Michael because of all the screaming matches between him and his parents. That, and the red bandanna he always wore. Michael ended up stealing an RX-7 and plowing it into the side of an empty schoolbus. He was going so fast, the doctors say he died on impact. I remember going to the funeral. I was wearing khaki pants and a dark blue sportcoat because my mother never bought any black clothes for me. It was open casket although it shouldn’t have been. It was one of the only times I saw him without that bandanna.
I’ve got too many stories like this.
Friends on parole for shooting people. Children of doctors who lived at home and attended community college to humor their parents. Teenage mothers that gave up raising their own children, instead passing that responsibility on to the grandparents. Filipinos whose parents gave them everything they wanted, and yet they still failed. Filipinos who took every single advantage that their parents gave them and threw it all away. So many parents let down. Parents that only wanted a better life for their children.
I didn’t feel like I fit into my community, so I left.